I was at a Digital Church & Theology Conference recently and it turned out to be an intimate setting because of bad weather that day, but also because it was a small gathering to begin with at Union Theological Seminary in New York City.
One odd thing about a conference on digital church was that there was no video stream or other mechanism to let people in other cities to participate or follow along. So I quickly lit up a Google+ Hangout session and tweeted out a couple of times with a link to the Hangout. Sure enough, a bunch of people jumped in immediately and we had a great discussion.
Cool part? One of the speaker, Eugene Cho from Quest Church on the left coast came by and chatted for a but during one of the breaks. Direct access to a speaker that the conference participants in the room didn’t really take advantage of…
A simple browser experience extended the teaching and community discussion with people outside of the conference in a New York Minute
Hangouts if you aren’t familiar with yet, is the Killer Feature of Google+. While you can debate back and forth about the rest of Google Plus’s platform, everyone agrees that the multi-user video conferencing feature on Google+ is awesome.
I Google+ Hangout with my daughter everyday. We hangout (on my 2nd monitor) while she does her homework. We don’t actively talk all the time, but it is a form of presence that really has helped us connect daily so that we’re already caught up before I even step foot in the door in the evening after work.
When I G+ Hangout with my daughter, it’s much like going to the library with a bunch of friends back in school. Everyone does their own work, and sometimes you’ll engage in chit chat or catch-up for a minute or two break — but overall the shared experience allows for casual interaction and builds the relationship.
Churches can take advantage of this multi-user video conferencing technology too. Here’s a list to get you thinking:
5 ways your church can start using Google Plus Hangouts to build community
- Live-Stream your Sunday Worship Experiences. It’s not the same as Church Online that might be considered live worship, but letting others peek into church and see what it is like allows both visitors and regular attendees to connect even if they aren’t there on location. This is obviously a huge thing for potential new visitors. For current attendees and members, it offers a way to stay connected while traveling, sick or if they are temporarily not able to come to church. If you use the “On Air” feature, Google+ automatically records the session and publishes it to your YouTube channel. Now you have on-demand playback of your worship services in case someone wanted to hear the sermon again or check out what your church experiences are like over a period of time
Small Groups / Bible Study - How about a 6am mid-week group for those that want to study together or pray together before heading out to work or the rest of the day? Imagine being able to offer this opportunity to connect with each other during the week for encouragement, accountability and just plain old relationship building? What about an after school session or two for your youth groups? They’re already on social networks while/after homework. Wouldn’t it be great to have them connect with other like-minded Christ-followers as well as their non-church going friends at school? Providing additional ways to connect with your youth leaders and other students at church is now practical and relevant to them with this format.
Open Office Hours – Let’s face it, while you think about church and work at church all the time, your people don’t. Getting to the church building is tough sometimes. And running around to meet everyone can be difficult to orchestrate and just simply time-consuming, especially for lots of things that aren’t “huge” issues. What if you held open office hours online where anyone can find you online to video chat, or find you and then hop on the phone for a private conversation? What if your pastor as well as various other staff/departments did the same thing for your volunteers? For your congregation?
Large Group Teaching or Q&A Sessions — Your sermons are great, but people have questions. While it isn’t practical to answer them from the pulpit, how about a way to address people’s curiosity or questions that your Sunday messages bring up? Hosting a public Q&A would serve and reward those that are engaged with the Bible and your Sunday messages. Instead of teaching your people to ignore their questions or not to follow-up with issues that arise from what they encounter, Google+ Hangouts can promote discussion and a culture of engagement with the Bible. You could also use Hangouts to do short teaching messages that are not appropriate for Sunday mornings — share focused teaching with small group leaders, preach/teach to different audiences (Youth!? Women? Men?) with more depth and relevance.
Worship (music) *with* community interaction – Google+ Hangouts offer a “Studio” kit that allows for higher quality audio to be streamed online. Your worship band would probably love to opportunity to lead your community (great invitational opportunity too!) in worship together in an *interactive* format! I haven’t met a worship leader yet that wouldn’t love more interaction and response from the community for which they play music in front of each week. How about a one-time event to start? We’ve had music Hangouts where the format it song-testimonial-song-testimonial-song, etc.
There are tons of other ways you can use live mulit-user video conferencing in your ministry setting. These are just the tip of the iceberg. In fact, if you have any other ways you think G+ Hangouts might be fruitful to use for church, please share them below!